Dear Audible.com: Anything you’ve got in your store I can get on The Pirate Bay for free. And it is a whole lot easier and faster than you make it. So please tell me, why should I pay to go through all your bullshit? – Anonymous
I recently joined Audible after years of hearing it promoted on my favorite podcast, Hardcore History by Dan Carlin. I generally prefer to read books than listen to them, but due to recent events (and the offer of a free download) I decided to give audio books a try. Given that I already had an Amazon.com account, registering with Audible was simple enough. However, right off the bat I was weary. Audible required my credit card information AND after my free one-month trial, if I do not cancel my subscription, I am charged for a full month. On a monthly basis. Until I cancel it. I thought these “opt-out” or “negative option billing” systems were no longer employed by reputable companies. I guess Amazon doesn’t include Audible in its reputation portfolio.
Visa, the BBB, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced they have joined forces to alert consumers to online deceptive marketing practices associated with free trials with a negative option feature. – Silver Planet
Here are your rights and responsibilities (in Canada) concerning Negative Option Billing according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Negative Option Billing is no less shady than those pop-ups instructing people to “Click Cancel to stay on this page”.
Undaunted yet cautious, I proceeded – but not before setting a reminder in my phone’s calendar for five days before the cancellation deadline. (NOTE: If a service requires you to set a reminder in your calendar to cancel said service – it’s generally best avoided altogether.) Once my registration was complete it only took me a few minutes to find something I felt I’d enjoy on audio book: “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t” by Stephen Colbert. Using one of my two free book credits, “purchasing” the audio book was simple enough. But actually “receiving” the item was another thing altogether.
After my purchase was completed I went to “My Library” and clicked on the big orange DOWNLOAD button beside my new audio book. A file downloaded to my PC. It was quick and easy enough and I went to the download folder, double-clicked the file and… nothing. I checked the file size and saw it was too small. There must have been an error so I went to the big orange download button again. I got a new file. Same thing. So I went and took a long, hard look at Audible’s ‘My Library” page. There was an option to choose my preferred audio format, but that wasn’t the problem. i looked around the Audible website for an answer. For a good 30 minutes. And found nothing. So I did a web search and found some forums discussing (or mostly complaining about) Audible. Only there did I discover that I required the Audible Download Manager to actually get my audio book. Nowhere on the Audible site was this clear. There was no pop-up informing me to “Get The Audible Download Manager” when I clicked that big orange button. I was surprised that a company owned by Amazon – one of the pioneers of web-based business and key proponents of The Cloud – would require an install. It took 60 minutes for me to finalize that simple purchase – that would have taken 2 minutes on The Pirate Bay. Or on Amazon for that matter.
So after 60 minutes of aggravation and cursing I finally had my first audio book. I was now ready to enjoy it on my computer, phone or Kindle Fire. With my Kindle firmly plugged into my USB slot and recognized in Windows Explorer, I attempted to sync my Kindle with newly-installed Audible software. (The software, I might add, has a look & feel that looks and feels like it hasn’t been updated since the late-90’s.) Surprisingly, yet less so at this point, the software (by Amazon) did not recognize my hardware (also by Amazon). Eschewing the desktop client, I was in fact able to access my audio book via the pre-installed Audible app on my Kindle. No thanks to this useless software I was forced to install though. I assume the purpose of this Audible software program is to enforce their DRM. The audio books download in “filename.aa” (AudibleAudio) file format and are listened to via the Audible player.
Unable to connect my Kindle (the hardware made by the same company that owns the software), I had very low hopes for success in syncing my Samsung Galaxy S-III with my wonderful new Audible software. I was not prepared, however, for the jump back in time I experienced when selecting “Add New Device”. The UI issues aside, the list did not include any Samsung devices. Although, it did offer to sync with any Palm Handheld, SanDisk or RCA digital players I might have in the bottom of a closet somewhere. Perhaps they should change the wording just a titch to “Add Old Device”.
Once again abandoning this ridiculous, archaic desktop client, I downloaded the Audible player in the Android market directly from my phone. It’s a simple app so there’s not much to critique, although, it does not turn off the way I want. Its icon remains in the notification bar. It won’t even close when I KILL IT with a Task Manager, like every other app does. Only when I use Audible’s prescribed “Quit” button, does the app fully close. Now, a lot of people may not have issue with this, saying “Sure, use the Quit button to quit the app. Makes Sense.” And they are right. But this restrictive and specific way to exit the app exemplifies Audible’s linear, close-minded, customer-defocused way of thinking. It’s the “Have It Our Way” philosophy that Steve Jobs demanded at Apple. And Audible doesn’t make any shiny products to attract customers, so it may not be the best strategy for them.
In a world of pay-per-use, view-on-demand and download-easily-but-illegally-for-free options, Audible offers its customers the amazing flexibility to choose from three different memberships: $14.95/month, $22.95/month, or $149.50/year. This is where they diverge slightly from Apple’s totalitarianism. At least you can get an iTunes account for free and pay only for your purchases. Audible wants to charge its customers money regardless if they use it or not. It’s a paid subscription, like the New York Times, except that you can access and read a lot of the New York Times for free, Audible is much more expensive, and Audible doesn’t actually create anything. Paying 15 bucks a month to Audible is like paying a cover charge to enter a book store. And who would do that?
I have four days left in my “free trial” subscription to Audible. I will, without a doubt, cancel it and never buy anything from Audible. Not that I’m a huge audio book (or ebook) fan anyway. I still prefer the look, feel, and smell of paper and card stock. But I do not understand how the execs at Audible think this is how they are going to remain competitive and relevant. For a purely digital business, they’ve surprisingly got a very brick & mortar mentality.